The Giants won’t remember Sunday’s game against Washington fondly. It wasn’t exactly the kind of performance a team would want to hold up as the epitome of its abilities. Coaches and players called it "grimy" and "ugly" and talked about "storms" that battered them throughout the contest.
Of the first six games the Giants have played this season, it probably ranked in the bottom half in terms of precision and production. It included all of the pitfalls that have plagued them, including a late Daniel Jones turnover, some boneheaded penalties, and touchdown drives by the opponent to cap both the first and second halves.
But when the Giants do recall what took place at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, what they will remember are the hugs. The joy. The relief. And the victory.
The Giants are winless no longer, having survived a 20-19 game that ended a five-game losing streak to begin the season. It was Joe Judge’s first win as Giants head coach, the first win in a Giants uniform for many of the players, and the first time all season that the team left the field with anything but disappointment swirling over its taste buds.
"It’s not like we won the playoffs," defensive tackle Leonard Williams said. "We still have a lot of work to do. No bragging rights or anything like that. But we’ve been working really hard through camp and working really hard through the beginning of the season and we finally got that win under our belt. It was nice to see guys smiling in the locker room after putting in that much hard work. We kind of got tired of going into the locker room and seeing sad faces."
They were very close to those devastated visages again. Instead, their first victory came courtesy of a couple of lasts.
With the score tied at 13 after the Giants blew a 10-point late-second-quarter lead, Tae Crowder — the final pick in April’s draft — picked up a fumble after Kyler Fackrell’s sack of Kyle Allen and carried it 43 yards for the touchdown that gave the Giants a 20-13 lead with 3:29 remaining.
"Man, I wanted to dive on it bad," Crowder said of his instinct to smother the loose ball, especially after he kicked it away from himself on his first attempt to scoop it up (Judge later critiqued the rookie’s knee bend on that first attempt). "But I knew if I could scoop it up and get in the end zone, that was something we needed at the moment."
Crowder said he was never bothered by the "Mr. Irrelevant" tag that comes with having been the last player selected in a draft.
"I took it as motivation," he said. "I love the name. I just wanted to get here [to the NFL], and one of my goals is to help the team any way I can."
The other last that helped on Sunday was a defensive scheme the Giants did not install until Friday. They decided to trot it out on the most important play of the game, a two-point conversion attempt after Washington scored a touchdown to make it 20-19 with 36 seconds remaining.
"The guys did a really good job working on it on Friday, improved some things that were mistakes and cleaned it up through Saturday,’’ Judge said, "and hey, practice execution becomes game reality."
The coverage denied Allen any open receivers, and pursuit by Dexter Lawrence and Blake Martinez forced him to dump it off for an incompletion.
Jabrill Peppers celebrated that stop with a few back flips on his way off the field, but there still was work to be done. Nothing is easy for these Giants. Logan Ryan, who had allowed the late touchdown on a 22-yard pass from Allen to Cam Sims, redeemed himself by recovering the onside kick and sealing the win.
"I think we just wanted it badly more than anything," said wide receiver Darius Slayton, who caught a 23-yard touchdown pass that staked the Giants to a 13-3 lead. "We’ve played some good football in previous weeks, we just haven’t been able to close out a win. I knew we were hungry, I knew we were ready and poised to win, and we were able to get it done today."
Said Jones: "It’s an extremely rewarding feeling to get that result."
That was what Judge needed more than the game ball he was presented in the euphoria of the postgame locker room: tangible proof that the Giants are heading in the right direction.
"The one thing I will say about our players is they haven’t blinked," Judge said. "You understand it’s tough when they are going through a streak where there is a lot of noise on the outside. We ask them to stay focused on what is ahead of them, but we know they’re hearing it from all directions. But they come to work, they don’t complain, they do whatever we ask them to. That’s just the way it is. We have a good group of guys who are tough, they’re fun to coach, and I’m happy they had success today."
Fackrell’s sack and Crowder’s score came at a moment of peril for the Giants. Their offense had just punted and Washington was at midfield, driving for the potential go-ahead points.
"It’s funny that they call him ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ because he’s been doing a lot for us," Williams said of Crowder. "Since he came in, he’s been a quiet guy working hard and he slowly has worked his way up to playing with the defense and he’s built up the trust of his teammates. He went out there and made a huge play. It was possibly the deciding factor of the game. That late, when it was that tight and we needed a huge play, it was huge for him."
The Giants seemed to be cruising to their first win, up 13-3 late in the second quarter and about to get the ball with about a minute left in the half. Instead, Austin Johnson was flagged for running into the punter on a fourth-and-10, inspiring Washington to try to convert a fourth-and-5.
They did, and drove all the way down the field to score on a 5-yard fade pass from Allen to Logan Thomas over safety Julian Love to make it 13-10 with 13 seconds left in the half.
The Giants should have extended that lead on a long drive that reached the Washington 7, but on first and goal, Jones tried to throw a pass out of the back of the end zone. Instead of landing in the third row of the empty stands, his throw came up short, and Kendall Fuller was able to make a diving interception. It was Jones’ third red- zone interception of the year.
Washington took that turnover and drove to the Giants’ 10, settling for a 27-yard field goal that tied the score at 13 with 8:56 left in the fourth. The Giants punted with the score tied at 13 with 6:57 left. Their next and only other snap in the game was a kneel-down with 31 seconds left.
With a game against Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Giants won’t have much time to enjoy the victory. Slayton said he doubts the team will even go over the tape from this game. Although players surely will dissect certain plays on their own and with position coaches, it won’t be looped on the video screens throughout the facility as some kind of accomplishment.
But the win does change the trajectory of the season.
"I definitely think it breathes life into the locker room, breathes life into the building," Slayton said. "It just brings an overall good feeling into the building and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that feeling into the rest of this week as we get ready for Philly.
"At the end of the day," he added, "winning is always a good feeling whether you are 10-0 or 0-10."
The Giants knew they wouldn’t be the former this year. Now they can exhale and know they won’t be the latter, either.